In CF trac ticket 88, proposed by Mark Hedley and accepted on 5th August 2012, it has been decided that CF should adopt a data model. The data model will be a logical abstraction of the concepts of CF data and metadata, and the relationships that exist between these concepts, but will not define an application programming interface (API) for CF. Adopting a data model is believed to offer the following benefits:

- Providing an orientation guide to the CF Conventions Document.
- Guiding the development of software compatible with CF.
- Facilitating the creation of an API which "behaves" or "feels" like CF and is intuitive to use.
- Providing a reference point for gap analysis and conflict analysis of the CF specification.
- Providing a communication tool for discussing CF concepts and proposals for changes to the CF specification.
- Setting the groundwork to expand CF beyond netCDF files.

The present document proposes a data model corresponding to the CF metadata standard (version 1.5). The data model avoids prescribing more than is needed for interpreting CF as it stands, in order to avoid inconsistency with future developments of CF. This document is illustrated by the accompanying UML diagram of the data model.

As well as describing the CF data model, this document also comments on how it is implemented in netCDF. Since the CF data model could be implemented in file formats other than netCDF, it would be logically better to put the information about CF-netCDF in a separate document, but when introducing the data model for the first time, we feel that this document would be harder to understand if it omitted reference to the netCDF information. We propose that these functions should be separated in a later version of the data model. Some parts of the CF standard arise specifically from the requirements or restrictions of the netCDF file format, or are concerned with efficient ways of storing data on disk; these parts are not logically part of the data model and are only briefly mentioned in this document.

In this document, we use the word "construct" because we feel it to be a more language-neutral term than "object" or "structure". The constructs of this data model might correspond to objects in an OO language.

This data model makes a central assumption that each field construct is independent. Data variables stored in CF-netCDF files are often not independent, because they share coordinate variables. However, we view this solely as a means of saving disk space, and we assume that software will be able to alter any field construct in memory without affecting other field constructs. For instance, if the coordinates of one field construct are modified, it will not affect any other field construct. Explicit tests of equality will be required to establish whether two data variables have the same coordinates. Such tests are necessary in general if CF is applied to a dataset comprising more than one file, because different variables may then reside in different files, with their own coordinate variables. In a netCDF file, tests for the equality of coordinates between different data variables may be simplified if the data variables refer to the same coordinate variable.

Each field construct may have

- An ordered list of zero or more
**domain axis constructs**. - A
**data array**whose shape is determined by the domain axes in the order listed, optionally omitting any domain axes of size one. If there are no domain axes of greater size than one, the data array may be a scalar. If there are no domain axes then data array must be a scalar. Domain axes of size one can be omitted because their position in the order of domain axes makes no difference to the order of data elements in the array. The elements of the data array must all be of the same data type, which may be numeric, character or string. - An unordered collection of
**dimension coordinate constructs**. - An unordered collection of
**auxiliary coordinate constructs**. - An unordered collection of
**cell measure constructs**. - A
**cell methods construct**, which refers to the domain axes (but not their sizes). - An unordered collection of
**transform constructs**. - Other
**properties**, which are metadata that do not refer to the domain axes, and serve to describe the data the field contains. Properties may be of any data type (numeric, character or string) and can be scalars or arrays. They are attributes in the netCDF file, but we use the term "property" instead because not all CF-netCDF attributes are properties in this sense. - A list of
**ancillary fields**. This corresponds to the CF-netCDF`ancillary_variables`attribute, which identifies other fields that provide metadata.

Collectively, the domain axis, dimension coordinate, auxiliary
coordinate, cell measure and cell method constructs describe
the **domain** in which the data resides. Thus a field construct
can be regarded as a domain with data in that domain.

The CF-netCDF `formula_terms` (see also **Transform
constructs**) and
`ancillary_variables` attributes make links between field constructs.
These links are fragile.
If a field construct is written to a file, it is not required that any
other field constructs to which it is linked are also written to the file.
If an operation alters one field
construct in a way which could invalidate a relationship with another field
construct, the link should be broken. The user of software will have to be
aware of these relationships and remake them if applicable and useful.

- A
**size**(an integer greater than zero), which can be equal to one.

A dimension coordinate construct may contain

- A scalar or one-dimensional numerical
**coordinate array**of the size specified for the domain axis. The elements of the coordinate array must all be of the same numeric data type, they must all have different non-missing values, and they must be monotonically increasing or decreasing. Dimension coordinate constructs cannot have string-valued coordinates. In this data model, a CF-netCDF string-valued coordinate variable or string-valued scalar coordinate variable corresponds to an auxiliary coordinate construct (not a dimension coordinate construct), with a domain axis which is not associated with a dimension coordinate construct. - A two-dimensional
**boundary coordinate array**, whose slow-varying (second in Fortran) dimension equals the size specified by the domain axis construct, and whose fast-varying dimension is two, indicating the extent of the cell. For climatological time dimensions, the bounds are interpreted in a special way indicated by the cell methods. - Properties (in the same sense as for the field construct) serving to describe the coordinates.

In this data model we permit a domain axis not to have a coordinate
array if there is no appropriate numeric monotonic coordinate. That is
the case for a dimension that runs over ocean basins or area types,
for example, or for a domain axis that indexes timeseries at scattered
points. Such domain axes do not correspond to a continuous physical
quantity. (They will be called **index dimensions** in CF version
1.6.)

An auxiliary coordinate construct must contain

- A coordinate array whose shape is determined by the domain axes in the order listed, optionally omitting any domain axes of size one. The elements of the coordinate array must all be of the same data type (numeric, character or string), but they do not have to be distinct or monotonic. Missing values are not allowed (in CF version 1.5).

- A boundary coordinate array with all the dimensions, in the same order, as the coordinate array, and a fastest-varying dimension (first dimension in Fortran) equal to the number of vertices of each cell.
- Properties serving to describe the coordinates.

A cell measure construct may contain

- Properties to describe itself.

- A
**measure property**, which indicates which metric of the space it supplies e.g. cell areas. - A
**units property**consistent with the measure property e.g. m2. - A numeric array of metric values whose shape is determined by the domain axes in the order listed, optionally omitting any domain axes of size one. The array must all be of the same data type. It is assumed that the metric does not depend on any of the domain axes of the field which are not specified, along which the values are implicitly propagated.

Either of these groups of coordinates may not exist, in which case it may be created by applying the transformation, inverting the formula if necessary.

A transform construct contains

- A
**transform name**which indicates the nature of the transformation and implies the formulae to be used. A CF-netCDF file does not explicitly record the formulae; it depends on the application software knowing what to do. - An unordered collection
of
**terms**corresponding to the variables of the transformation formula. These variables may be scalar parameters, pointers to dimension or auxiliary coordinate constructs of the field construct, or pointers to other field constructs. Each member of the collection has a particular role in the formula , necessarily including all existing coordinates which relate to this transformation.

Transform constructs correspond to the functions of the CF-netCDF
attributes
`formula_terms`, which describes how to compute a vertical coordinate
variable from components (CF Appendix D),
and `grid_mapping`, which describes how to transform between
longitude-latitude field and the horizontal coordinates of the field construct
(CF Appendix F).
The transform name is the `standard_name` of a vertical coordinate
variable with `formula_terms`, and the `grid_mapping_name`
of a `grid_mapping` variable.
The scalar parameters are scalar data variables (which should
have `units` if dimensional) named by `formula_terms`,
and attributes of `grid_mapping` variables
(for which the units are specified by the transform construct).
The role of each term in the formulae of the transform construct is
identified by its keyword in a `formula_terms` attribute,
or its attribute name in a `grid_mapping` variable.

The attributes
`valid_max`,
`valid_min` and
`valid_range`
of data variables and coordinate variables are checks on the validity of
the values, which could be verified on input and written on output.
In this CF data model we assume they do not constrain any manipulations
which might be done on the data in memory,
and they are not part of the data model.

The attributes
`_FillValue` and
`missing_value`
of data variables specify how missing data is indicated in the data array.
This data model supports the idea of missing data, but does not depend on
any particular method of indicating it, so these attributes
are not part of the model.

The attributes
`add_offset`,
`compress`,
`flag_masks`,
`flag_meanings`,
`flag_values` and
`scale_factor`
are all used in methods of compressing the data to save space
in CF-netCDF files,
with or without loss of information.
They are not part of this data model because these operations do not
logically alter the data,
except that the `compress` attribute implies two alternative
interpretations of coordinates (compressed or uncompressed).
The "feature type" attribute and associated new conventions,
to be introduced in CF version 1.6,
will provide a way of packing multiple
fields of the same kind of discrete sampling geometry
(timeseries, trajectories, etc.) into a single CF-netCDF data variable,
in order to save space, since a multidimensional representation with
common coordinate variables is typically very wasteful in such cases.
This is a kind of compression. The data model would regard each instance
of the feature type as an independent field construct.
However, the "feature type" attribute itself is also a metadata property
that would be a property of the field construct and part of the data model.

The attributes
`bounds`,
`cell_measures`,
`cell_methods`,
`climatology`,
`Conventions`,
`coordinates`,
`formula_terms` and
`grid_mapping`
have various special or structural functions in the CF-netCDF file format.
Their functions and
the relationships they indicate are reflected in the structure
of this data model,
and these attributes do not correspond directly to
properties in the data model.

17th December 2012

Version 0.6 of 12th December 2012

Version 0.5 of 16th October 2012

Version 0.4 of 5th August 2012

Version 0.3 of 6th February 2012

Version 0.2 of 1st August 2011

Original version 0.1 of 10th January 2011

Jonathan Gregory, David Hassell and Mark Hedley